One time in college a few of us were watching and intermittently mocking John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, in which Darwin Joston’s character asks every other character if they have a cigarette at least 500 times (he finally gets one at the end from his dewy love interest—it’s called “character development,” see). My dumb way of heckling the movie was to shout insistently in a froggy voice, “SMOKE! I LIKE SMOKING!!! LET’S SMOKE! I WANNA SMOKE! SMOKING!!" whenever he would ask again. Anyway, that’s all I could think about when I read the Pitchfork cover story on Mac DeMarco yesterday.

Anonymous asked:

Please share your thoughts about Sun Kil Moon "Benji"

Kind of a tough slog, but I get it. As a piece of art it’s intense and the writing is vivid—sort of a stream of consciousness Springsteen thing with the small towns and depressing news items and tragic deaths. As music that you listen to more than once for ostensible pleasure, well, like I said: tough slog. It’s gotten pretty glowing reviews across the board, though, so I wonder whether it’s just the kind of record that people feel guilty for not lionizing (like, say, In the Aeroplane Over the Sea). I think the last song might be my favorite.

Anyway, interesting record, but on the whole I’m more of a Bill Callahan guy.

And Jeff Goldblum’s Fingers Come Flying Off

I wrote up this list after seeing The Grand Budapest Hotel a couple weeks ago. Because, more than staging every single set/shot/character as a neat little handmade diorama and then getting Hollywood stars to under-act their way through them, it seems to me Wes Anderson’s true obsession is pinpointing transitional stages of life. He’s gone out of order, but at this point he’s covered almost everything:

- Moonrise Kingdom (2012) - the end of childhood and first steps into adolescence
- Rushmore (1998) - adolescence: seeking adult solutions to childhood needs
- Bottle Rocket (1996) - twentysomethings: aimlessness, identity crisis, solidifying real friendships
- The Royal Tenenbaums (2001) - adulthood: dealing with the traumas of childhood and having to heal/make your own new family
The Darjeeling Limited (2007) - adulthood: coping with parental loss/separation and the urge to return to childhood
- Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009) - parenthood: being a provider, family life, and mid-life crisis
- The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004) - post-middle age: aging past ‘usefulness’ into acceptance of death and your own past mistakes

Playacted visual style aside, this is what these movies are “about,” to me, and in this sense they’re all chunks of the same basic story. So Grand Budapest Hotel looks at first like it could slot somewhere in between Rushmore and Bottle Rocket since one of its protagonists, Zero, is a teenager undergoing a vague coming-of-age experience. There’s a rushed mention of his traumatic third world childhood and some business with his first love Agatha (though she’s really more of a helpful plot device, as well as the “token female who isn’t Tilda Swinton or Anjelica Huston”—a role filled by Cate Blanchett, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Natalie Portman in previous Anderson flicks), but the movie really doesn’t spend much time on Zero’s maturation. That part is an afterthought to the caper.

Grand Budapest is Anderson’s first action movie and the tropes of the genre turn out to suit him rather well. There’s the suave ladies-man antihero, his eager and pure-of-heart sidekick, the goose-stepping military pursuers, a shadowy assassin, and lots of colorful backdrops for all of them to dash through (not to mention a prison-break scheme and a ski-chase climax). None of them needs to be particularly complex or fueled by more than a single, simple motive. By the end, though the noblest person ends up with the money and the girl, no one else has changed much at all. Anderson’s once-hip deadpan style works better in this environment because we don’t expect artsy dramatic performances here, just the thrill of the chase. We don’t have to spend the whole movie irked by the feeling that we’re missing something when the slo-mo walking shots don’t carry the emotional payoff they imply. Instead, we get to munch our popcorn and laugh while Ralph Fiennes, Adrien Brody, Willem Defoe, and Tony Revolori all punch each other in the face.

Listening Journal 03-06

St. Vincent - St. Vincent - St. Vincent scares me, though probably not for the reasons Annie Clark is hoping. Look at her last two records: she is fervently, obsessively preoccupied with proving her own wildness. She continues to try to explode the prim, stiff, Disney soundtrack-bred persona that made her an indie pop star with extra fuzz on her guitar and bloodier, sexier lyrics. The problem is it’s woven too deeply into her musical DNA. On record, she still comes across as someone whose apartment looks just a little too much like a furniture catalog for comfort. She makes some of the coldest, most calculated pop music this side of Kraftwerk while insisting that, no, she’s a totally messy weirdo like the rest of us. David Byrne was a good match for her—another geeky art-pop OCD case—but really she’s more like Janelle Monae: all self-constructed and perfectly starched. On St. Vincent she manages her best-yet impression of feral-and-ferocious, but even with her hair bleached white and sticking straight up, not a single one is out of place. The mid-tempo rock songs here have an eerily similar tone and texture to them—all tweaked just enough to stand apart—but none feel particularly satisfying. And the evenly spaced ballads “I Prefer Your Love” and “Severed Crossed Fingers” show once more, seemingly against her very intentions, how naturally suited she would be to a stirring rendition of “A Whole New World.” [6]

Real Estate - Atlas - A downcast, Byrds-ian record, even for them. Lovely, melodic guitar playing per usual, and even some blue, jazzy chord progressions on “The Bend” and “Past Lives” that belie the essential conservatism of this band. I mean, Martin Courtney is the same age as me, and while I certainly don’t feel young the way I did at 22, I’m not ready to start calling myself ‘old’ before I’m 30, dude. Part of you wonders why, if they’re still so nostalgic for the suburbs, don’t they just move back there already? And of course the answer is: because then they’d have nothing to write songs about. True, there are worse things to be than too comfortable, and few bands in recent memory have been able to return high rewards from such low risk. But let’s never forget to call Real Estate exactly what they are: our generation’s seminal dad-rock band. [7]

Marissa Nadler - July - I’d lost track of her since either Songs III or Little Hells, but it seems like she’s found a proper home on Sacred Bones (“Where Only the Famous Ones Get to Design their Own Album Covers”), and is still plugging along with the same kind of gothy folk she’s always made. Her voice is a little less shy now, more nuanced and expressive. The songs most shaded in by background etherea, pedal steel, and harmonies tend to land the hardest, but that’s less an argument for beefy arrangements and more an acknowledgement that she’s doing some expert coloring within the lines here. “Was It a Dream,” “1923,” and “Drive” are standout faves. [7]

These reviews, these critiques, these opinions—I’ve always had a problem with inexperienced critics. That is to say […] if you haven’t made a film, if you haven’t actually gone through the process that it takes to even get a script green-lit, let alone cast and produced and edited and released and marketed correctly—if you haven’t gone through all those things and somehow had a thing [made], I don’t really wanna hear too much about what you thought of my film.

Kevin Pollak.

I’m passing some time today by listening to this while working (and because I’m one of the few idiots who will still defend the LOST finale), and this bit, which is really just a quick aside in an otherwise fine conversation, sent up a red flag. It’s something you hear creative people across all different disciplines say from time to time: this assumption that having worked the mechanics (or bureaucracy) involved in getting mass-audience art made yourself is somehow essential to interpreting and critiquing the final product, with this hint of a defensive attitude underneath it that says “What, you think you can do better??

Pop culture commentary and criticism is its own art form with its own craft, processes, audience, and all that stuff. It’s an art of explicit argument rather than suggestion or obfuscation, but it’s still ultimately put out into the world for other people to enjoy and react to and think about (a strict interpretation of Xgau’s “consumer guide” schtick is pretty well useless in the modern age so don’t even go there). The problem is that it relies on other art to fuel it, so people in those other arts can be understandably defensive about their work. [I would like to note, though, that music critics have been rather generous about the instances where the tables have been turned and their work has been portrayed in movies as childish (High Fidelity), sentimental (Almost Famous), or creepily highfalutin (American Psycho).] But this is how things are: if you put your name on something that goes out into the world for people to enjoy and react to, you expose yourself to criticism. And the legitimacy of any critique can’t be contingent upon the critic’s experience with anything else but the listening/reading/viewing experience at hand.

I personally think all art of any ‘brow’ should work this way, but come on: it’s Pop. The only barrier to entry is “did you see/read/listen to it?”

Listening Journal 02-11

Mas Ysa - Worth - Budding genius might be a bit much to hope for. There’s some novelty in context here—ambient interludes and emo disguised as electropop—but I don’t see the appeal translating much beyond the hype cycle right now. Also, if this is supposed to be like a Xiu Xiu for people who find Xiu Xiu too abrasive, then I take issue with that too (namely: being abrasive is the whole point of Xiu Xiu). I like the austerity and he’s doing an admirable job of trying to bridge the gap between cold electronic sounds and angsty human emotions. But the pieces aren’t all fitting together quite right. This is an EP and an artist’s first release, so some obvious room for growth should be considered a positive. I’m just saying: let’s not get too excited about a project that has yet to prove anything. [6]

Quilt - Held in Splendor - If Olivia Tremor Control’s Dusk at Cubist Castle grew out of a dusty pile of old Byrds, Zombies, and Beatles records, then this album grows out of a torrented copy of Dusk at Cubist Castle. Which is to say it adheres strictly to the kind of late-60s psych pop that never really goes away, snowballing over each year’s nostalgists and absorbing them into the collective consciousness or whatever. Quilt are capable and confident, but you do have to wonder if anyone really needs to spend a whole album listening to them coast on someone else’s fumes with few ideas of their own. For fans of Tame Impala, Woods, and yeah, OTC. [6]

Bohren & Der Club of Gore - Piano Nights - I kind of love this instantly just for what it is: four German guys in black playing sad jazz as slow as humanly possible. It should be a joke on The Simpsons or something, right? Yet it’s hard for me to argue with the simple beauty of this music. It’s completely unflinching in mood and tempo, with the kind of dark, opioid gravitational pull that critics used to talk about in trip-hop. These pieces are too spare to be weepy or gothic, but they’re also too warm and expressive to be lumped in with Low-style autism. After about ten minutes it becomes impossible and pointless to distinguish one song from the next, and a solid hour of this stuff is more than I can imagine anyone ever needing. But it is deep, meditative, and gorgeous. [8]

Listening Journal 01-31

Dum Dum Girls - Too True - They’ve done it again: sub-punk tempos, echoing guitars, husky dead-eyed cool blended with teenage romanticism, and one-note hooks that rival any of the ‘denser’ guitar pop you might find out there. Credit Dee Dee’s ongoing apprenticeship with iconic producer Richard Gottehrer or that unmistakable tremble in her lower register, but she’s found a way to tap into pop music’s collective unconscious in ways that one-time peers like Vivian Girls or Best Coast could only dream of doing. Some of the records DDGs have put out the last couple years have hinted at a coming transition to unapologetic clarity and loftiness. And while, yeah, Dee Dee’s been compared to Chrissy Hynde a bunch and it’s not hard to imagine her penning at least one world-conquering hit in her lifetime, I kinda love how evasive this record is. It hearkens back to the band’s ultra-streamlined debut, as if they’ve once again got no time for anything so flowery as “Lord Knows” or “Coming Down.” It’s not perfect (“Rimbaud Eyes” in particular is rather asinine) but it’s a satisfying record that preserves the band’s sense of mystery and intrigue. [8]

Hospitality - Trouble - Tough not to see this as something of a transitional album, or at the very least an attempt by a still-fresh band to not get pigeon-holed. As fantastic as their debut was, it was all too easy to slot into the Etsy wasteland of twee-for-grownups. So now Amber Papini and Co. go out of their way to introduce a little edge to the palate: heavier guitars, more cymbals, retro-futurist synth sweeps, even some honest to goodness noodling. This album’s mellow, moody, wistful second half throws the slight cluttering of the first half into sharper relief, offering a split-personality view of the band that forces the listener to take sides. Me, I like the gentle breeze vibes of “Sullivan,” and “Sunship,” though the new wave electro of “Last Words” does point up a possible new direction. If you can’t make your songs work as spring-loaded little contraptions, try stretching them out to see if they reveal their charms on their own. If nothing else, Trouble is evidence that Hospitality’s best work still lies ahead of them. [7]